Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Mummy Bloggers #BookReview

Book: The Mummy Bloggers
Holly Wainwright

When you love reading and are a book blogger and a parent blogger too and you see a book titled The Mummy bloggers, well then you just pick it up. And so I did. That’s a lot of ‘ands’ I know, but there were a lot of things about this book that appealed to me.

It tells the story

..of three mom bloggers, all in completely different sub-niches of their own.

There’s – Elle, formerly Ellen, but then Elle, is more chic, no? And being chic is crucial for Elle. She lives in a #perfectworld. She has perfectly baked #homemadebrownies, which aren’t homemade at all and which she won’t ever eat because she also has to instagram her #perfectabs. She has a pair of #perfectbabies who dress in matching (and sponsored, obviously!) clothes. All in all she has a perfect life with SomebodyElse’sHusband. Opps sorry, that was her original anonymous blog, before she married Somebody Else’s Husband and made him her own, turning into #stylishmumma herself.

Then there’s Abi the #GreenDiva who has moved to the country with her partner Grace and their children. She has a farm where chickens run around, she homeschools her children and fights against processed food, vaccinations and all things ‘Big Pharma’. No matter that her own children are safely vaccinated.

Lastly there’s Leisel Adams a #workingmom in her forties. She has a full time job managing the demands of a millennial younger-than-her boss as well as a baby, a toddler and a kindergartener at home. Also in her life is #wonderdad, her stay at home husband. That she manages to blog is a wonder in itself.

So our protagonists are blogging away happily, secure in their own little worlds with their own followers and their own trolls too. Along comes a blogging award that nominates the three of them and upsets this delicate balance because there can only be one winner. On offer is a huge cash prize. An all-out anything-goes mommy war breaks out, the war to grab the most eyeballs in order to stay in the forefront of the hearts and minds of mommy’s of the world wide web. Unbelievable lies will be told and lives will be threatened in this war.

What I liked

This was a super fun ride. It was a familiar world, a world I love and enjoy and am a part of, even if in a rather peripheral way. I’ve seen rough prototypes of the three moms.

I loved the characters and the idea of niches within a niche. The book brought to light the social media addiction a lot of bloggers succumb to, living in a world of hashtags. That itch to check how many people responded to that last tweet, the last update, the latest post, that need for constant validation from relative strangers – that was very real. As also the danger of trolls.

Abi gives sound advice (?) for grabbing eye-balls in a crowded world:

…. the only way to get anyone to listen to you was to keep it simple and shout the loudest. Clouding your argument with nuance was the road to oblivion .…

Make the world black and white, take sides, stick to them, fight for them. It’s interesting how she goes about doing just this and gets caught up in a complicated web.

I loved Elle’s track for highlighting what a fake world it is out there. Reading about her was annoying and funny and, towards the end, crazily frustratingly unbelievable.

Leisel was a personal favourite perhaps because she was the most identifiable and the most genuine of the lot. Take for instance her worry that the children liked Wonder Dad better than her and yet she is relieved when baby wants only ‘daddy’ to put her to bed and then right away she’s guilty for feeling relieved. That emotional see-sawing is only too familiar.

Of course it’s all exaggerated, hugely exaggerated in the latter part, but I still maintain this was a fun read.

I’ll give it one extra star for delivering what it promised.

Last thought: If you’re a blogger looking for a light read, pick this one. If you’re not, you still might enjoy the laughs.

Advertisements

Before You’re Not Little Anymore #BookReview

Book: Before You’re Not Little Anymore
Author: Vinodini Parimi

There are a million things we want to teach our children, a million things we want them to know, to learn, to remember, specially when they are flying the nest. Is it even possible to put it all down in a book? How on earth do you condense the gyan you spout liberally throughout the day when your children are near you into just 26 short letters?

Also, how do you keep your letters personal while also making them universal? Vinodini Parimi manages to do that with moderate success.

Before You’re Not Little Any More is a collection of 26 letters from a mother to a son. 

Starting off with a letter on managing anger, the book goes on to touch upon topics like handling emotions, loneliness, friendships, infatuations as well as tougher topics like seeking happiness, the true value of trust and that of life.

What I loved

The book is divided into 26 chapters, each a letter on a single topic. The chapters are short, easy to read and digest.

The best thing about this book is that it comes straight from the heart – like a chat between a mother and a son, which is what it essentially is.

The author picks instances from her own life and uses them to pass on these valuable lessons. She talks about friends and relatives, perhaps some of them who are known to her son, which adds to the authenticity of the letters. Yet she doesn’t make the reader feel like an outsider perhaps because we’ve known similar people and can identify with the situations.

I specially loved the letter on friendship, probably because my own children are just entering the phase where friends are beginning to play larger roles in their likes and dislikes. She talks with amazing clarity on the importance of having boundaries with friends, or learning to appreciate different traits in different people rather than completely idolising a single person and trying to become him/her. She also talks about how friendships change and how it’s okay for you or your friend to move on. 

She includes some very practical tips too, simple things like keeping a pocket diary to avoid overwhelm and help one prioritise, or ideas to cheer oneself up should one feel sad and depressed. I would have loved more of these coping strategies.

What could have been better

I have already said that writing a book like this is a bit of mammoth task. And that’s where it falters. In its bid to pack in a lot, some lessons get lost in the telling. Some posts meander and overlap, though I do get that that is inevitable.

Last thought: One mustn’t attempt to read the book in a single sitting. These lessons are best read one at a time, slowly, over days, in order to fully appreciate each one. The book works better as a sort of ready reckoner. Each lesson will make sense at a particular juncture in life.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of the book in return of an honest review.

The Bastard of Istanbul #BookReview

Book: The Bastard of Istanbul
Author: Elif Shafak

I’d recently finished The Forty Rules of Love and loved it. The Bastard of Istanbul was already waiting on my bookshelf.

The story

This is the story of two girls Asya, who is Turkish, and Armanoush, aka Amy, who is Armenian American. Asya, the bastard daughter of Zehila, is brought up in Istanbul in an all-women household with her aunts, grand mom and great grand mom. Though Armanoush lives in Arizona with her mom and step father, her birth-father’s household in San Francisco is also predominantly female, quite similar to Asya’s.

Asya is the quintessential rebel. Armanoush on the other hand is a ‘good girl’. Her Armenian roots intrigue her as does the Turkish-Armenian conflict. In search of the Armenian side of her identity she makes her way to Istanbul and the two girls meet.

So what happens then? Do they connect? 

Above all, there’s the secret of Asya’s birth. Who is her father? What will happen when the secret is revealed?

What I loved

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – the more I read the more I am made aware of my ignorance. I had no clue about the Turkish-Armenian conflict. I hadn’t heard of the Armenian genocide. It was horrifying yet fascinating to read about it. 

The interesting bit is that the Turkish Government still refuses to acknowledge the genocide while the Armenians have never forgiven them for it. The antagonism has festered for decades.

That is why I enjoyed Asya and Armanoush’s interactions. Armanoush is skeptical of going back to Turkey, apprehensive of some kind of a violent reaction, while Asya is completely unaware of her feelings. That’s just how resentment brews till people meet each other and then it magically falls away and love and warmth take its place.

At one point in the book Asya asks Armanoush’s Armenian friend: 
Tell me, what can I as an ordinary Turk in this day and age do to ease your pain?
And he replies: Your State can apologise. 
Then he goes on to say: You yourself can apologise.

That conversation is one of the best parts of the book.

There are other good bits too.
If you’re looking to get to know Turkey, specifically Istanbul, this is the book for you. Shafak’s tale is rich with descriptions of busy Turkish streets. She brings it all alive from rain-filled potholes to sounds of street vendors, the famous hammams, the curious customs and above all the food – delicious glorious food. I was constantly looking up dishes and their recipes, trying out the unfamiliar names and salivating as I mentally sampled them. Do keep google handy when you read this book.

There’s a bit of magical fantasy element too, which I liked.

The beginning is slow but the book gets interesting in the second half. I loved the way the lives of the two girls entwine and the end reveals a secret so horrifying one is blown away.

What could have been better

The book opens with Zehila (Asya’s mother) trying to get an abortion. She sounds like a wonderfully colourful character and the opening completely reeled me.

Within a few pages however the book changed course. It proceeded to loose its way, getting disconnected and mixed up and the first 150-200 pages proved to be a struggle to get through. Nothing much happens and Asya’s ennui and existential angst rubbed off on me making me restless with the book. So don’t pick up this one if you’re looking for a pacy read. It isn’t.

I like women protagonists but The Bastard of Istanbul had just too many making it difficult to keep track of all of them, specially on Armanoush’s side.

Shafak also states a few ‘rules’ along the way, a bit like she did in Forty Rules, but they dodn’t come together coherently in any kind of pattern.

I wish it were a shorter book, written/edited better. Oh and I want to read Zehila’s story. She is, by far, the most interesting character in the book. It was disappointing to see so little of her.

Last thought: Take on this trip to Istanbul with loads of patience and in close collaboration with Google.

You Beneath Your Skin – #CoverReveal #BookReview

I am happy to be part of the cover reveal for Damyanti Biswas‘s debut crime novel, You Beneath Your Skin to be published this September by Simon & Schuster, India. I’ve known Damyanti for some time now and have admired her commitment to the written word as also to social causes. Her blog is a valuable resource for aspiring writers.

So, without further ado, here’s it is!

The red and black cover with a partly visible face in the background promises a crime story with plenty of intrigue. One cannot help but wonder who that face belongs to and what story she might have to tell.

Sample the blurb here and get set to be further intrigued.

Lies. Ambition. Family. 

It’s a dark, smog-choked New  Delhi winter. Indian American single mother Anjali Morgan juggles her  job as a psychiatrist with caring for her autistic teenage son. She is  in a long-standing affair with ambitious Police Commissioner Jatin Bhatt  – an irresistible attraction that could destroy both their lives.

Jatin’s  home life is falling apart: his handsome and charming son is not all he  appears to be, and his wife has too much on her plate to pay attention  to either husband or son. But Jatin refuses to listen to anyone, not  even the sister to whom he is deeply attached.

Across  the city there is a crime spree: slum women found stuffed in trash bags,  faces and bodies disfigured by acid. And as events spiral out of  control Anjali is horrifyingly at the centre of it all.

In  a sordid world of poverty, misogyny, and political corruption, Jatin  must make some hard choices. But what he unearths is only the tip of the  iceberg. Together with Anjali he must confront old wounds and uncover  long-held secrets before it is too late.


Since the blurb gives a fair idea of the story and also because there’s only so much one can reveal when it’s a thriller I’ll skip right over to what I thought of the book.

It’s definitely a fast-paced read and it keeps one hooked throughout. I read it in one go.

The narrative etches out the characters so effectively that one begins to care for them pretty early on in the book. Not just the protagonists but also a host of side-characters are all very real. Whether it’s a child from the slums or a teen from upmarket society – the voices are authentic and believable.

Although the book is a thriller I loved how it also touched upon a number of social issues and wove in the complexities of human relationships as well. Most of all as a parent I was shocked and horrified to see how a well-meaning parent can go all wrong simply by not keeping in touch with one’s child’s thoughts and feelings, how strongly peers influence children and how unaware parents often are of what their teens are up to.

Do check out this book if you like pacy reads that also engage with various social issues.

Pre-order YOU BENEATH YOUR SKIN here.

For You Beneath Your Skin, all proceeds to the author would be divided between Chhanv Foundation and Project WHY.

About the author:

Damyanti Biswas lives in Singapore, and works with Delhi’s underprivileged children as part of Project Why, a charity that promotes education and social enhancement in underprivileged communities. Her short stories have been published in magazines in the US, UK, and Asia, and she helps edit the Forge Literary Magazine. You can find her on her blog and twitter.

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Ravan: Enemy of Aryavarta #BookReview

Book: Ravan: Enemy of Aryavarta
Author: Amish Tripathi

I have a soft spot for this series by Amish Ramayan series because it was with the first book  Scion of Ikshvaku that I kicked off this blog. I loved that one. I was curious about how Amish would handle this multilinear narrative and that was what made me pick up Sita and now Ravan: Enemy of Aryavarta.

The story

The book traces the life of Ravan, son of Rishi Vishrava and Kaikesi. Disliked by his father and not particularly fond of his mother Ravan, is a lonely child. He has a streak of cruelty that makes him torture small animals and watch them die.

If he has one tender place in his heart, it is for his baby brother Kumbhakaran. Ravan leaves his father’s ashram with his  mother, his uncle Mareech and Kumbha to protect his (Kumbha’s) life.

He knows he is made for great things and he sets out to achieve what is rightfully his, Kumbha and Mareech by his side. From a small-time smuggler he turns into a pirate and powerful trader. Unfettered by the values and principles that hamper others he forges ahead.

However, there is one pure, unsullied memory from his childhood that refuses to leave him – a face, a voice that could potentially steer him away from his reckless path. He seeks out that face but on the verge of turning over a new leaf it is snatched away from him. Filled with rage, he unleashes it on the Sapt Sindhu. Ravan thus emerges as the quintessential villain. He challenges the authority of Kubaera the businessman ruler of Lanka and displaces him to become king.

As he notches up victory after victory he is unaware that he is part of a larger plan, a cog in the wheel rolling towards a greater goal, orchestrated by the great rishi Vishwamitra. 

Ravan was a disappointment

First there’s the voice of Amish. He speaks the language of the millennials and that gets jarring, specially in a mythological setting (Remember Hanu Bhaiya in Sita?). I get that it’s his style and I did love Meluha though it had the same voice. Perhaps it might have something to do with the fact that I’ve grown up listening to the Ramayan and so find it tough to adjust to this pop-version.

My biggest complaint however is that the book turns plain boring in bits. There were too many and too detailed explanations and descriptions – of the Sapt Sindhu, the caste dynamics, the trading system, of traditions and palaces. There are too few dialogues, slackening the pace of the story.

Then there’s the story itself. Amish is known to give his own twist to every tale. I’ve liked his twists, I’ve liked how they tie in neatly with the original familiar story. However here, without giving out spoilers, all I’ll say is that Ravan as an angry lover-boy didn’t seem believable at all, more fantasy than mythology.

Then there’s the reference to Sabarimala. In his previous books he brought in references to a gory rape and then Jallikattu, this time it was Sabarimala. Perhaps that’s an attempt to weave in current events but it seems like a forced addition to the narrative.

The saving grace was the portrayal of Kumbhkaram – the endearing, good-natured giant. He is Ravan’s conscience and emerges (almost) as the hero of the book.

Also, I’m a little curious how Amish will take the story forward now that Ravan knows who Sita is. I’m hoping with all the war-action the next one won’t be a disappointment.

Perhaps the author should stick with lesser-known mythological re-tellings. He certainly has the knack for bringing alive mythological settings, of building up strong characters and of springing surprises.

Last thought: Read it only if, like me, you’ve committed yourself to the series. You might find yourself skipping pages though.

Behind Closed Doors #BookReview

Book: Behind Closed Doors
Author: BA Paris

Jack and Grace are the perfect couple. He’s a rich, good looking lawyer completely in love with Grace, while she is his perfect companion, graceful and elegant, one who throws perfect dinner parties in their perfectly beautiful home. The two are never, and I mean never ever, apart.

Grace has an autistic younger sister Millie who is due to come to live with her and Jack soon. And Jack is looking forward to it as much as Grace is, perhaps even more.

So is this couple for real? Is there a catch?

Before I begin to tell you the good and the bad let me just say that Behind Closed Doors was a complete edge-of-the-seat page turner. It kept me awake reading late into the night and then I couldn’t sleep because I was scared of the nightmares that might come to haunt me.

There really is a kind of morbid fascination in reading about someone purely evil. The blurb almost gives it away and one knows from the start that Jack and Grace aren’t as perfect as they seem. Within the first few pages we get to know that Grace is being kept prisoner by Jack who is a psychopath.

That there, was my first issue with the book – that we get to know the real Jack too early. The mystery could have been built up better if his real nature was revealed slowly over more pages. That the POV is Grace’s might have thrown up some problems but it could have been done.

I have to reiterate though, that knowing the real Jack doesn’t take away from the tension. You read on in horror wondering what he would do next, whether Grace would try to escape and what would happen when she does.

The other thing that bothered me was how Grace transformed from a terrorised wife to a perfect hostess. Is it even possible to behave normally, to interact with people, socialise with them (Jack wanted that) and not let them have a hint of what you’re going through when you’re in the grip of such absolute terror? I get that Grace had a strong motivation to fall in with Jack’s blackmail but I wondered if it was physically emotionally possible to keep the pretence going. How long can one make excuses to not go for dates with girl-friends, to not meet anyone without the husband?

Though the end was not difficult to guess the ‘how’ of it kept me intrigued. However, when it did come it seemed too easy. That’s an issue I often have with books – the build up is great but the end is a let down.

And there was one major loop hole. If you have read the book, or when you read it, I’d love to know if you figured it out.

Though the suspense in the book wasn’t great, the edge of the seat tension definitely was.

Last thought: A page turner, despite some loose ends.

Linking up with the Write Tribe Reading Challenge – This is my review for ‘A book written by someone of a different nationality/colour/ethnic group than you’.

Everything I never told you #BookReview

Book: Everything I Never Told You
Author: Celeste Ng

‘Lydia is dead’ says the opening line of this book. However don’t go into it thinking it to be a thriller and you’ll love it.

This is the story of…

a mixed race couple, Marilyn and James Lee, and their children Lydia, Nathan and Hannah.

Lydia is clearly the parents’ favourite. She is the focus of their lives and carries the burden of their expectations. Marilyn wants Lydia to become a doctor and sees it as the fulfilment of her own childhood dream. James on the other hand has always struggled to fit in being a child of Chinese parents. He wants Lydia to have friends, to be a ‘regular American teen’.

Nathan and Hannah get stray bits of their parent’s attention. Nath is bullied by Lee to the point where he begins to doubt himself. He is by turns resentful and sympathetic towards Lydia. Hannah remains an invisible presence longing for her parents’ as well as her siblings’ affection. She is an insightful little girl observing much more than she’s given credit for.

Then one day Lydia disappears. A few days later her body is fished out from a lake. That’s when the delicate threads that hold the family unravel, spilling out ugly secrets. Is it a murder? Is it a suicide? Does her friendship with their neighbour Jack have anything to do with it?

What I thought of it

Although a murder mystery forms the core of the narrative, the book is the story of a family, its criss crossing relationships and the desire of every child to be loved and accepted.

Each of the characters is beautifully etched with strong back stories that explain clearly why they behave the way they do. That is what makes this book exceptionally readable and relatable.

One can see where Marilyn and James are coming from, why they want what they do for Lydia. And yet one can also see its terrible consequences.

The relationship between Nath and Lydia is beautifully portrayed. Nath obviously resents her and yet the two share an unsaid understanding. He knows that the constant attention of her parents annoys and upsets Lydia and he tries to deflect it too, not always with happy results.

Everything I never told you talks about how expectations can weigh down a child no matter how honourable the intentions. It brings home the fact that parents can sometimes pressurise their children without even being aware of it. There’s the obvious coercion where they push, nag and reprimand and then there’s emotional coercion which isn’t as obvious and yet can be far more overwhelming and potent. Worse still, it leaves little room for refusal or rebellion because one isn’t being coerced overtly at all.

That’s a dangerous place to be in.

Oh I felt for Lydia. I know children like her – the ‘good girls’ who struggle to deliver at every level. But what happens if they cannot? What if they do not want what their parents want for them and can never say it for fear of breaking their parents’ hearts? So intense and palpable is the constant tension in Lydia’s life that one almost feels a sense of relief as the waters of the lake close on her.

As a mom to twins who worries constantly about dividing time and attention fairly between them the focus on Lydia seemed incongruous. That was perhaps the single jarring factor of the book. However, that’s not to say I haven’t seen it happen. It definitely does, thought perhaps it isn’t as blatant.

Last thought: A wonderful read about love and family and expectations. Definitely worth a read.

Linking up with the Write Tribe Reading Challenge – This is my review for ‘A book on crime-solving’.